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Cholesterol Confusion

Por Eleazar Lara-Pantin, MD, MSc.* -
Cholesterol Confusion

A few days ago I received an e-mail similar to many others I have received in the past. This person writes: "My wife tends to have high levels of bad cholesterol (slightly above 200). Vegetable oil ads claim they are cholesterol free.

Our physician said that we could consume vegetable oils without affecting our cholesterol level. But, he recommended that we should not  eat fried foods because that would affect our cholesterol. We’re confused." This is a good example of what happens everywhere, every day. Because our writer was so confused, I thought I would share my response to his inquiries.

High levels of bad cholesterol are due to a combination of genetic factors and lifestyle, specifically eating habits and a sedentary way of life. We can’t do anything about our genetic predisposition to problems like this one, but we can do a lot about our eating and exercise habits to control our cholesterol levels.

There are two important approaches regarding food:

  • Avoid excess calories.
  • Monitor how much and what kinds of fats you consume.

Both have a lot to do with food preparation. Here are my suggestions:

  • Remove all visible fat from animal products. Remove skin from chicken.
  • Roast, bake, boil, and stew with herbs. Avoid fried foods.
  • Limit the consumption of breads and pastries prepared with vegetable shortening.
  • When adding fat, whether in salads or an occasional fried food, use only vegetable oils (preferably olive or canola oil). Any vegetable oil can be used in moderation.

Concentrating on the specific aspects of the question, I recommend that people consider the following:
a) No vegetable product contains cholesterol. Cholesterol is only found in animal tissues.
b) Although vegetable products don’t contain cholesterol, they can still contribute to raising cholesterol levels. The cholesterol that harms us is manufactured by our own body, using saturated fatty acids as raw material. In high percentages, these get into our body through animal foods and through vegetable fats, particularly those that remain solid at room temperature. Many people have high cholesterol because they eat breads and pastries made with these types of vegetable fats.

Rather than fearing liquid vegetable oils, be careful with the consumption of products rich in saturated fatty acids. They significantly contribute to making our bodies manufacture more cholesterol than it can handle.

Another element to consider is the industrial modification of oils to manufacture products like margarines. Although they do not contain cholesterol, they are rich in "trans" fatty acids which can significantly increase cholesterol levels, particularly the bad cholesterol. Many researchers believe these fatty acids are equally harmful as saturated fats in exacerbating high cholesterol problems. My best recommendation is to always read the product labels. They will probably mention "trans" fatty acids or "hydrogenated vegetable oil" content, which are practically the same and should be avoided as much as possible.

Lastly, I emphatically recommend you do some type of exercise on a regular basis. Exercise has been proven to significantly increase levels of good cholesterol.

I invite you to visit the MyDiet™ Health Resources Center, where you will find several articles with interesting and practical information on this subject.


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